- TEAR SHEETS
- THE MIDDLE EAST
- WEST AFRICA
- NY METS
- NEW YORK CITY
This series takes place in Kukuo Witch Camp located in the Namumba South District of Northern Ghana, one of the only witch camps in the world. There are currently hundreds of alleged 'witches' living in the five camps across northern Ghana and although Ghanaians are extremely superstitious, these camps are not a story of witch craft or unusual activity, they are the story of lack of women's rights and discrimination against widowers who become a burden to their family.
Despite fierce social stigmatism, being exiled from their communities and having most of their basic human rights violated, the women accused of witchcraft voted in the election on December 7th 2016. I have followed the women through the election season, showing them as Ghanaian citizens, emphasizing their democratic participation and normalizing their existence, rather than simply underlining their pariah status. Many of the women are voting in this election to improve the water situation at their home in the Kukuo Camp. Some have lived there as long as 30 years and despite being over 80 years old walk daily to carry water pumped from a community well.
The remaining Witch Camps in Ghana are vastly separated from other communities and the majority of the accusations start from a death in the family or a dream somebody has but almost every case is traced back to inheritance issues or a woman becoming a burden due to age or being widowed. Their only trial is mob justice which is almost impossible to over turn as vulnerable women. Once in the camps, they will work on local maize or henna farms until they are too elderly, when they will rely on the younger women for food and donated clothing.
Kasue Kalahar, 85, says “I was a widow. I moved into my sisters house to care for her while she was sick. After she died, my nephew said to me ‘Auntie- stop chasing me in my dreams. Stop it or I will take my own actions.’ The next morning everyone in my family had left and I was in the house alone. The chief came and banished me as a witch.”
Awabu Issaheku of Kukuo was accused to be a witch by her sister in law after she was widowed and moved in with her brother, “I pray for the Government to help” she said. Although the lack of TV and radio prevent vast exposure to the campaigns, the camp still remains littered with Political posters for NPP NDC and PPP campaigns, many of the women using the posters to decorate their homes and add colour to their walls.
The Political Campaigns avoided the Witch Camps for fear of controversy or discouraging voters by speaking on politics against Witches. ActionAid reports that in 2016, Witch accusations not only increased but became common in developed cities such as Tamale, a shock to the international organization who have been working in the camps since 2006.
Shani Abdul Kasiru, the head of policy and program for NGO Songtaba, a close partner of ActionAid, expressed his surprise at the new accusations in urban areas, stating the NGO’s had perhaps “overlooked that urban areas were enlightened”.
The landlord of the Witch Camp in Tindan-zie Sampa Asammusa explained “The government have the power to help, but the government isn’t everywhere to put their policies into force. The people will do what they want. Our communities lack social infrastructure and most of the women here have been accused by their own family- so how can they turn home?”. It is crucial for Pastors, Imams, Chiefs and Politicians to speak about about these issues and desensitize the situation so that the accusations stop and the stigma changes so these women are able to return home.
“Whether or not the camps close depends on peoples attitudes.” Says Adamu Dasana, who with the help of ActionAid has been rehoused back into her community for the past two months after living in the Witch Camp since 1968. “I am able to sell more things and have a pipe for water. I spend time with my four grandchildren everyday, so yes life is better for me now.”
But at least for today, 80 year old neighbours Fatima Neidoo and Awabu Mahama who have lived banished in the Kukuo Camp for a combined 35 years were able to walk together to the ballot box in the center of their community and cast their vote in the Presidential and Parliamentary election before returning back to their daily duties drying maize and collecting water. When asked what she voted for, Awabu responded simply: “Housing, food and clothing”.